Molecular basis of the immunogenicity of cell surface tumor antigens

P. M. Comoglio, G. Forni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability of an animal to recognize a tumor antigen depends on a series of factors, such as the chemical structure of tumor antigens, their metabolic turnover, and the functional and genetic immunocapability of the host. Host and tumor soluble factors known to interfere with the antigenicity of these antigens have been extensively studied. The present report reviews the classification of tumor membrane antigens, their coding genes, their chemical nature and their immunogenic capability. Tumor surface antigens consist of 2 distinct categories: tumor-specific surface antigens (TSSA) and tumor-associated transplantation antigens (TATA). The characteristic of TSSA is that of being specific for the malignant status. TSSA may or may not mediate tumor rejection: it may even not be immunogenic in the syngeneic host and may or may not be relevant for cancer immunology: they are tumor markers and are primarily of interest for studying the mechanism by which membranes are involved in oncogenesis. By contrast TATA are primarily of interest in the study of the mechanism by which cancer cells are the target of the immune system. This group includes antigens expressed on the surface of cancer cells which can spontaneously or in experimental conditions elicit an immune reaction in the syngeneic host. A TATA is every antigen expressed by the cancer cell surface which is recognized by the host. It may possibly also be a TSSA, but cases have been reported in which a host anti-tumor immune response is mounted against antigens that are not strictly tumor specific. This is the case of viral antigens (i.e. antigens also expressed by virus-infected non-transformed cells) or even host autoantigens expressed on the surface of target cancer cells. So far for some definitions, for this paper is unsuitable for an abstract. However, one can indicate the subject matter dealt with, to wit: the genetic classification, the chemical classification, the immunogenicity of tumor antigens, the heterogeneization approach, the genetic approach, the carrier approach, the histocompatability approach and the presentation approach. The most significant findings obtained in particular host-tumor systems are briefly reported. The hypotheses and theories based on these findings are outlined as well. The burgeoning literature on new findings and ideas in tumor and basic immunology is causing continuous evolution of the possible interpretation of the molecular and cellular basis of TATA immunogenicity. However, as matters now stand, no general interpretation or prevision based on any of these theories appears to be possible. Almost all studies on TATA immunogenicity appear to conceal a new phenomenologic surprise. Indeed, any evaluation of the relevance of the findings and the hypotheses based on them is difficult, if not impossible. The final goal is to get rid of the original phenomenologic sin which continues to confine cancer-research as regards immunology, in a hell of polluting irrelevant findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-169
Number of pages20
JournalExperimental Cell Biology
Issue number3-6
Publication statusPublished - 1976

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Molecular basis of the immunogenicity of cell surface tumor antigens'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this